63% of Americans think personal finance education belongs in school

High school students listening to teacher in classroom telling them about personal financeImage: High school students listening to teacher in classroom telling them about personal finance

In a Nutshell

A recent Credit Karma survey finds more than half of Americans feel that personal finance education belongs in schools and many feel their financial knowledge gaps could be holding them back from making progress. But it’s never too late to learn — we’ve got some tips to help boost your knowledge.
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When it comes to financial education in schools, many adults feel that more should be done to help students get a head start.

A recent Credit Karma/Qualtrics survey of 1,049 American adults found 63% of respondents think personal finance education should be taught in schools, while more than three-quarters (77%) think politicians should push for adding financial education in schools and over two-thirds (67%) would vote for a candidate who prioritized doing this.

Why do Americans feel so strongly about adding personal finance to the curriculum? Our survey suggests it’s because many Americans feel their level of financial knowledge is keeping them from making progress, with many (41%) having had to rely on themselves for financial education — perhaps leading to some financial knowledge gaps.

For example, many Americans believe some common money misconceptions, according to our survey. Almost 4 in 10 respondents (38%) falsely believed that you should keep a balance month-to-month on your credit cards to build good credit scores, while just under one-third (30%) falsely believed that you should close any unused credit cards as soon as they’re paid off. (Learn about our methodology.)

Some generations could be feeling the repercussions of the financial knowledge gap more than others. More than half of millennials (51%) from our survey said they thought their level of financial knowledge was holding them back. Meanwhile, millennial parents were the least confident that they could teach their children about personal finance (40% vs. 65% of Gen Z parents and 68% of Gen X parents and older). 

If you’re looking to gain greater know-how in the personal finance arena, we have some tips below that could help. But first, let’s dive into why some Americans aren’t at the top of the class when it comes to financial knowledge and what they’d be willing to give up for better financial education.

Key survey findings

63% of American adults think personal finance education should be taught in school.
Over three-fourths (77%) of American adults want politicians to push for financial education in schools, while 67% said they’d vote for a candidate who did — on a state or national level.
More than 2 in 5 American adults (41%) say they had to teach themselves about personal finance.
There’s a lot that Americans would be willing to give up to receive better financial education, including happy hour (35%), dating apps (29%), morning coffee (24%), vacation days (12%) and even their sex lives (8%).
One-third (33%) of American adults feel that their level of financial knowledge keeps them from making financial progress. Over half (51%) of millennials say they feel this way.
Millennials are more than twice as likely to turn to their parents for financial advice than are those who are Gen Xers or older (54% vs. 22%, respectively). Millennials are most likely to say that personal finance education belongs in schools (76%).

 


Personal finance education: Who’s teaching Americans about money?

In lieu of school-sponsored personal finance lessons, many Americans turn to alternative sources of money advice and information. For example, 41% of respondents said they’re self-taught, while 37% said their parents taught them about finances. Just 12% said they learned about personal finance from teachers. A few people learned about money from colleagues (1%) or friends (1%).

With nearly two-thirds of Americans (63%) surveyed saying personal finance education should be taught in schools, it’s clear there’s interest in adding financial literacy topics to the classroom. However, respondents were a bit divided over when this should happen.

When should financial education be taught?
Elementary school 30%
Middle school 33%
High school 32%
College 5%

 

Despite some debate over just how young is too young when it comes to learning about personal finance, or where that education should occur, many Americans are aligned on putting school-sponsored personal finance education on the political agenda.

More than three-quarters (77%) of those surveyed believe politicians should push to add financial education in schools, and 67% of those surveyed would prefer to vote for a candidate who prioritizes adding mandatory personal finance education to the public school curriculum. 

What would Americans give up in order to be more financially savvy?

You may have heard of FOMO, or the fear of missing out. Our survey shows many adults seem to have FOMO when it comes to getting educated about personal finance — we’ll call it “know-MO” — and would trade some aspects of their everyday lives in order to know more about how money works and how to get out of debt.

What would respondents give up …
  for better financial education to get out of debt
Happy hour 35% 42%
Dating apps 29% 34%
Morning coffee 24% 31%
My therapist 13% 22%
Vacation days 12% 20%
My sex life 8% 12%
25% of my paycheck 7% 13%
Owning a house 6% 8%
Owning a car 5% 9%
My significant other 5% 5% 


What does the personal finance knowledge gap look like in the U.S.?

When it comes to financial knowledge, our survey found that a significant portion of Americans believe some common misconceptions about personal finance. For example: 

  • Almost 4 in 10 Americans (38%) falsely believe that you should keep a balance month-to-month on your credit cards to build good credit scores
  •  Over one-third of Americans (34%) falsely believe paying with a debit card poses less risk than paying with a credit card
  • Just under one-third of Americans (30%) falsely believe that you should close any unused credit cards as soon as they’re paid off

So, should these topics be taught in school? Is there any guarantee that personal finance lessons would stick?

We had the same questions, so we asked survey participants about lessons and skills they would have learned early on in their schooling years but likely aren’t using today — things like long division, writing in cursive and even playing “Hot Cross Buns” on the recorder. We found a surprising number of Americans say they still remember these skills, but far fewer say they have some essential personal finance know-how.

Millennials could have benefited most from school-sponsored personal finance education

According to our survey, many Americans feel as if they’re falling short when it comes to financial knowledge, but millennials seem to be feeling it more than other generations. 

More than half (51%) of millennial respondents answered that they feel their level of personal finance knowledge is holding them back from making financial progress, compared with just 43% of Gen Z and 26% of Gen X and older.

And it could be true.

For example, we found millennials are the least likely generation to have savings to cover three months of living expenses — just over one-third can do so (39%), compared with 53% for Gen X and older, and 44% for Gen Z. And millennials are the least likely to feel confident teaching their children about finances — just 40% think they can do so, compared with 65% for Gen Z and 68% for Gen X or older.

In addition, it seems many millennials aren’t always sure where to get financial education or advice. Only 27% of millennial respondents said they taught themselves about money, compared with 41% of all respondents. And they’re much more likely to turn to their parents for advice. Although only 22% of the Gen X or older respondents said they would ask their parents for money advice, more than half (54%) of millennials said they would.

What’s more, millennials were the most likely generation to say they felt as if the personal finance education they received growing up has not helped them navigate their finances.

So, perhaps millennials could have benefited most from having personal finance education in schools — and it seems they agree. Seventy-six percent of millennial respondents said personal finance education belongs in schools, compared with just 61% of Gen Z and 61% of Gen X and older.


The more you know: What financial advice would adults give their younger selves?

We included an open-ended survey question asking people what financial advice they’d give their 18-year-old selves. There were some common themes in the responses. Here’s a sample of what we heard:

  • Set a budget that accounts for daily needs, wants and the future. Some adults surveyed wish they’d known about setting a budget at a younger age. Think of the 50/30/20 rule — aim to spend 50% of your monthly income on bills and other needs, 30% on fun and 20% on savings.
  • Start saving as early as possible. Savings are on the minds of many adults, some of whom regret not saving at an earlier age to take advantage of compounded interest that can help savings grow more quickly.
  • Know how credit scores work, and stay on top of your credit reports. Survey respondents expressed a desire to teach their younger selves how to build credit and how to stay on top of their scores. If you are a Credit Karma member, you can check your VantageScore 3.0 credit scores from TransUnion and Equifax — two of the three major consumer credit bureaus — for free on Credit Karma.
  • Have a plan to repay any debt before you borrow. Many of the adults we surveyed feel they weren’t educated on the consequences of going into debt before they took on a loan — particularly student loans. Have a solid debt repayment plan in mind before you take on any loan.

Methodology

On behalf of Credit Karma, Qualtrics conducted a nationally representative online survey in July 2019 of 1,049 Americans aged 18 and up to learn about the personal finance education they received and their general financial literacy. 


About the author: Paris Ward is a content strategist at Credit Karma, providing readers with the latest news that will aid their financial progress. She has more than a decade of experience as a writer an… Read more.